Media advance GOP's deceptive claims of partisanship in health reform process

In the wake of the Senate Finance Committee's October 13 passage of a health care reform bill, the fifth such bill passed out of congressional committees this year, numerous media figures have advanced the claim that the bill and the process of crafting health reform more generally was overly partisan, and have blamed Democrats. But these charges ignore the numerous Republican amendments included in both Senate health reform bills, and turn a blind eye to Republicans Senators' refusal to negotiate on health care reform in good faith and to their efforts to bring about, in the words of Sen. Jim DeMint, Obama's “Waterloo.”

Media claim health reform not bipartisan

IBD editorial: “Bipartisan Baloney.” An October 14 Investor's Business Daily editorial -- headlined “Bipartisan Baloney” and reflecting on the Senate Finance Committee's vote to pass health care reform, which received the support of Republican Olympia Snowe -- declared that "[a]s predicted, the Democrats are using the vote of one very liberal Republican as proof their health care takeover is 'bipartisan.' It's nothing of the sort. But then, we're getting used to such exaggerations."

Ingraham: “You're about to have your entire health-care system changed by one party.” During the October 27 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham said during a discussion of the Senate's health care reform legislation: “This crowd is the most partisan crowd I have ever seen in Washington. They said Bush was partisan? Look at what they are doing to a fifth of our economy with no Republican support. It's, it's mind-boggling. And everyone listening to this across the country watching this show, you should be outraged. You're about to have your entire health-care system changed by one party that's wildly unpopular right now. Unbelievable.” [Fox & Friends, 10/27/09]

Halperin: Democrats “made a mistake not making this bipartisan.” Discussing the Senate's health reform legislation on the October 27 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Time's Mark Halperin told co-host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough: “I agree with what you have been saying for months, which is they made a mistake not making this bipartisan, once they made the decision to do it with Democratic votes.”

But Senate bills included numerous GOP amendments, reflected bipartisan meetings

Senate HELP bill: “161 Republican amendments accepted.” According to a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee document about bipartisan aspects of the health reform bill the committee passed July 15, the final bill included “161 Republican amendments,” including “several amendments from Senators [Mike] Enzi [R-WY], [Tom] Coburn [R-OK], [Pat] Roberts [R-KS] and others [that] make certain that nothing in the legislation will allow for rationing of care,” and reflected the efforts of “six bipartisan working groups” that “met a combined 72 times” in 2009 as well as “30 bipartisan hearings on health care reform” since 2007, half of which were held in 2009. [HELP committee document 07/09]

Senate Finance bill included 13 amendments sponsored by at least one GOP senator. According to the Senate Finance Committee's document detailing the amendments to the Chairman's Mark considered, at least 13 amendments sponsored by one or more Republican senators were included in the bill. Additionally, Chairman Max Baucus stated in an October 13 opening statement to a mark-up of the health bill that the Gang of Six, a bipartisan group of six senators including three Republicans and three Democrats, “held 31 meetings to try to come to a consensus. We held exhaustive meetings. We met for more that 61 hours. We went the extra mile.”

GOP Senators made clear they didn't intend to negotiate with Dems in good faith

Sen. DeMint: “If we're able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo.” During a July 17 conference call organized by the anti-health care reform group Conservatives for Patients Rights, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) asserted, while discussing health care reform: “If we're able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”

Sen. Kyl admitted “almost all Republicans” will oppose reform - even with concessions. Minority whip Jon Kyl (AZ) reportedly admitted August 18 that “almost all Republicans” will oppose Democratic health care reform efforts, regardless of the compromises Democrats might make in attempting to win their support. As The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen explained, concluding that Kyl's remarks should indicate that “bipartisan talks just officially died”:

I think Sen. Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona, the second highest ranking Republican in the Senate, said something really important this morning.

The Senate Republican whip, speaking to reporters on a conference call from his home state of Arizona, said that even if the Democrats do away with a government-run insurance option, the GOP most likely won't support the bill that's being written in the Senate

“I think it's safe to say that there are a huge number of big issues that people have,” Kyl said, referring to Republican senators. “There is no way that Republicans are going to support a trillion-dollar-plus bill.”

Asked if he'd support a bill if it were deficit neutral, Kyl said Dems may find a way to pass reform without adding to the debt, “but that doesn't mean the Republicans will support it.” Asked if he could tolerate a nonprofit insurance cooperative instead of a public option, Kyl added that a co-op is “a step towards government-run health care in this country.” The Senate Minority Whip added that “almost all Republicans” are likely to oppose reform, even if it's the result of a bipartisan compromise.

So, bipartisan talks just officially died, right? There's no real ambiguity here -- a member of the Senate GOP leadership announced, publicly and on the record, that Republicans are going to oppose health care reform, no matter how many concessions Democrats make.

Sen. Grassley forwarded death panel falsehood. Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley during an August town hall meeting forwarded the widely debunked falsehood that health reform legislation provides for “death panels,” saying: “In the House bill, there is counseling for end of life [...] You have every right to fear. You shouldn't have counseling at the end of life, you should have done that 20 years before. Should not have a government run plan to decide when to pull the plug on grandma.” Despite the utter falseness of his claim, the provision was subsequently removed from the Finance Committee's health reform bill.

Grassley admitted he wouldn't vote for his own bill if GOP remained opposed. NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd asked Grassley during an interview on MSNBC's Morning Meeting, “Are you willing to be one of just three or four Senate Republicans that support an eventual deal if you get what you want out of the Senate Finance Committee, and it's an agreed-upon deal with the Gang of Six and that's basically the bill that comes out of the Senate? Are you willing to be one of just three or four Republicans while 36 or 37, including the Senate Republican leadership as a whole, all being against it? Are you willing to be just one of those three or four Republicans?” to which Grassley responded: “Absolutely not. And I told the president that a week ago Thursday, and I told Max Baucus that over a period of three or four months.” Todd went on to ask: “If you have -- if it's something you believe ... if you think this is a good deal, are you gonna -- and overall because of the politics of the situation you can't get more Republicans on board, you're going to go ahead and vote against it, even if you think it is a good deal?” Grassley replied: “Well, it isn't a good deal if I can't sell my product to more Republicans.” As TPM Media's Brian Beutler noted, Grassley effectively “said he'll vote against his own bipartisan health care bill if it doesn't win the support of more Republicans.” [Morning Meeting, 08/17/09]